New From Tabor & the Golan Heights

As wine sales triple and even quadruple in the weeks leading up to two of the major Jewish holidays - Rosh Hashana (New Year) and Passover, over the next 6 weeks, stay tuned, as many Israeli wineries will be releasing new wines and wine stores will be offering irresistible specials.

I recently had the opportunity to taste new wines released by the Tabor and the Golan Heights wineries:

Tabor – last week the Tabor Winery officially released their new premium label coined ‘Limited Edition’. Replacing the previous ‘Mescha’ blend which was an excellent red blend considered by many as the winery’s flagship vino, the Limited Edition series consists of two red wines, both from the 2006 vintage.

Before describing the wines, this is also the place to mention that the Tabor Winery has undergone a major quality revolution in recent years. After joining forces with the Central Bottling Company’s alcoholic beverage department -IBBLS and substantial investment in both vineyards and equipment, the Tabor portfolio is very diverse and offers good wines at all price ranges. The Tabor, Adama, Gir, Sauvignon Blanc, 2010 is one of the best in its style and price range, and some of the reds from the Adama and Adama 2 labels are very enjoyable. Tabor also produces a very light and refreshing semi sparkling – semi sweet wine labeled Pninim (pearls). While personally not my cup of tea, these are excellent wines for those who say that they are not wine drinkers – serve chilled and you won’t be disappointed. Back to the event.

After introducing the team starting with winemaker Arie Nesher and head agronomist Michal Ackerman, CEO Oren Sela mentioned that “the wines were crafted using grapes from small plots and vineyards that have demonstrated exceptional quality over the years. We have invested a lot of time and resources studying our vineyards and mapping out these plots. As yields are relatively low in these plots, production of the wines is also limited and hence the name Limited Edition”. The names for the individual wines were selected according to the number of bottles produced -1/6,000 & 1/13,000 and it will be interesting to see what happens next year in the case that production levels change. Either way, they are both fine wines, my favorite being the Tabor, Limited Edition, 1/6,000, 2006 – 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and the balance Merlot, dark purple in color and medium- full bodied, this elegant blend suggests various aromas of dark berry fruits, raspberries, dark chocolate, cloves and a touch of eucalyptus leading to a pleasant finish. Good texture as well this is a very enjoyable wine. The Tabor, Limited Edition, 1/13,000, 2006 is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Shiraz from vineyards in the Upper Galilee, aged for 18 months in oak barrels and 3 more years in the winery post bottling. The wine is dark ruby in color and medium to full bodied. On the nose and palate a slight alcoholic sensation followed by generous black and red fruit, black pepper, chocolate and dried herbs leading to medium finish.

Golan Heights – The Golan Heights Winery recently released three new reds from the winery’s Yarden Label, all from the 2008 vintage. As I have written in the past, the Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon is probably the closest thing to a safe bet in the Israeli wine industry and is often used as a benchmark when comparing the quality vs. price ratio of Israeli wines. The Yarden, Cabernet Sauvignon, 08 is up to par with previous releases and while approachable now it is still a bit firm and should develop nicely in the coming years. Aged for 18 months in barriques, dark purple in color, full bodied and good structure, this Cab suggests pleasant aromas of dark berry fruits, cherries and blueberries come to mind followed by plums and notes of tobacco and cloves, all leading to a long finish. I found the Yarden, Merlot, 08 more approachable at this time and would probably be better to serve during the coming holiday season. This time aged for 14 months in French oak, full bodied, a slight metallic sensation when first poured but this fades after several minutes in the glass revealing dark berry fruits alongside hints of coffee and chocolate covered orange peel leading to a long and pleasant finish. The winery suggests serving the Merlot Yarden 2008 alongside classic roast beef or roasted duck.

Last but not least is the winery’s new addition and the only blend (disregarding the entry level Mt. Hermon and the Premium Katzrin and Rom blends that also bare the Yarden name) in the Yarden series. The Yarden, 2T, 2008 is an interesting blend made from 50% Touriga Nacional and 50% Tinta Cao, both traditional Portuguese grape varieties with relatively low yields. These two varieties are regaining popularity in the Douro and Dao valleys of Portugal and are used to produce Port as well as dry wines. As I am less familiar with Portuguese wines, it is hard for me to compare, but the result is quite interesting. Aged for 18 months in French oak, while there are similarities, Golan Heights’ version is definitely different in style from other red wines in the Yarden series. On the nose and palate tart cherries, plums, flowers and orange zest followed by notes of dark chocolate and dried spices all leading to a long finish. An interesting wine worth trying and it will be interesting to see how the market responds to these new and less familiar varieties.